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Hi Steve,
Quick question: I have a violin with the following label: Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno 1721, then a circle with an ‘AS’ within it. I’m sure this is not the real deal but who knows??

That is an exact copy of the Strad tag. It is in Latin and it means "Antonio Stradivari, Cremona", made in 1721. On my pilgrimage to Cremona, Italy I actually saw the little stamp that Stradivarius used to make the circle with the AS in it. It is only inaccuracies in the copy that give you clues about the violin's origin. Some say, in English, "made in _______." By this you know that the Strad copy violin was made in the stated country, for export to an English speaking country. But, exact copy tags are by far the most common. Stradivarius violins were very expensive when they were new. If your father spent a good chunk of the family wealth on a violin, you would tend to keep track of it. Unaccounted for Strads are possible, although there are more stories than facts. Stolen ones reappear periodically. I have never seen a Strad tagged Strad Copy that was worth less than $300 (after restoration), or more than $3000, but there are copies worth much more than that. In fact, some authenticated Strads may never have been touched by the masters hand.

Between the Civil war and the depression, farmers were the middle class. Farming was a good, profitable endeavor and farmers had some money in their pockets. The great mail order companies, Sears, Montgomery Ward, etc. served the needs of these isolated consumers. The 1908 Sears Catalogue showed violins from 88 cents to $25. The 88 cent violins were about equivalent to today's $100 violins. The $25 violins would compare to a $3000 or $4000 new violin. Most of these violins came from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and most had Stradivarius labels.

Chances that you have one of the 600 known Strads are very small, but chances that what you have would make a fine fiddle are very good.

Steve Mason

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